Alternate Dimension Morality: The Heinz Dilemma

I have been asked by a disproportionate amount of anarchists what I would do if I could cure all cancer by flicking an unwilling party in the nose. I would violate the fuck out of the NAP, that’s what I would do. I might not subscribe to the NAP in that universe. If I lived in a universe where physics was that different, I assume that my morality would be different. But I don’t live in a universe where flicking noses cures all cancer; I live in this universe. It’s also not philosophically  relevant what I would do or whether a particular person would violate the NAP. The best you can demonstrate is that I’m an aggressor. You haven’t proven the NAP to be wrong, immoral, or flawed.

I also think that it is important to admit where we™ are wrong, imperfect, deviate from the NAP, or even just disagree with the NAP if that’s the case. In my experience when people refuse to do this they end up treating the NAP as a Living Document™, declaring everything they don’t like to be a NAP violation and everything they do like not to be. No sane person expects complete adherence to a philosophy in extreme cases. But philosophy doesn’t have to be destroyed just because humans are imperfect. And, fortunately, in the real world trolly problems such as this one do not typically contain innocent bystanders who did nothing wrong and ended up in this situation anyway- though sometimes they do.

There is an old ethics hypo known as the Heinz Dilemma that thinks that it disproves the morality of property rights. Depending on which version you use, Heinz is either living in current day or in a pre-regulated medical market. Heinz’s wife is deafly ill and can not afford the medication that will save her. Heinz works, begs, and borrows all that he can. Heinz offers the pharmacist a sum of money greater than his costs, but less than the sale price of the medicine and offers to make payments or any sort of arrangement that is agreeable to the pharmacist. The pharmacist believes himself to be immune to market pressures and/or is just sadistic and refuses any agreement. The question then is, should Heinz steal the medication.

The markup in this hypo tends to be only about 400%, which leads me to believe that it takes place in a pre-regulated medical market, but the problem doesn’t always state that. While what Heinz would do, or what I would expect Heinz to do is not philosophically relevant, the type of market in which his actions occur is.

If Heinz is living in a society that has a medical cartel protected by the State, such as exists in the US, then excepting the low markup this is a realistic scenario. Under such State oppression, there will of course be programs to subsidize those who can not afford the insane markups created by State protectionism. But since the purpose of those programs is to give legitimacy to the State, not to give healthcare to people who need it, and since the State is inefficient and can not respond to market signals, these programs will not cover everyone who can not afford the artificial prices. If Heinz qualifies for one of these programs and he has been previously stolen from by the State, then he can simply get some of his own money back via one of these programs. But life isn’t always that simple. If Heinz lives under a State medical cartel, can not afford the hyper inflated artificial prices, and does not qualify for Medicaid or the like, he still does not have to violate anyone’s property rights in order to save his wife. States do not hand out political favors for free, and granting a cartel to an industry is a political favor. At some point a pharmacy supported legislation, helped to appoint a more aggressive politician, or otherwise used the force of the State against Heinz. For example, Wal-Mart supported the Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare. Not only did Wal-Mart write a letter to the State asking it to aggress against Heinz, but it was fully aware of the weight that a request from it carried, “we have worked closely in support of health care reform since 2006, when we came together to help break the stalemate that had defined the health care debate for too long.” If Wal-Mart thinks that itself and two other companies are breaking a stalemate it knows that it is not “just talking;” it knows that it is having legislation enforced against people. If Heinz has ever had to make an “individual responsibility payment,” obtain excessive coverage, pay inflated rates on ACA insurance, or was otherwise victimized by the ACA, then Heinz was aggressed against by Wal-Mart. Because Wal-Mart has aggressed against Heinz, he can use retaliatory force against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has a pharmacy. Therefore, Heinz can obtain the medication without violating anyone’s property rights. It is also worth noting that Heinz can collect with interest, collection costs, and without regard to proportionality.

I do not think that the purpose of this hypothetical is to get you to explain re-appropriating property from the State and retaliatory force against C Corporations. I think the purpose of this hypothetical is to attack property rights, or at least to attack their supremacy. If Heinz is living in a free market then this hypothetical is purely academic. I make no claims about the righteousness of the NAP in alternate dimensions, and neither should anyone else. It is not a viable scenario that someone has a product on a shelf, has no other customers for that product, has no possible personal use for the product, they can sell at a 50% profit margin just on the downpayment, and they decide not to sell because reasons. This is not a description of human behavior. There is no benefit to the pharmacist to not sell; he is loosing a decent amount of money for no reason. He is allegedly holding out for a higher price, but it is a higher price that he KNOWS that he can not get. His refusal to sell is inexplicable. The market by definition would not and can not set a price that is unable to be paid. It is also highly suspect that in a free market only one seller has a particular medication. This is not behavior that the market would tolerate and so since Heinz is in a market this hypothetical pharmacist can not be here. This character is wholly unrealistic and is created for the sole purpose of disproving the workability of property rights. But this character can not disprove human property rights because it is not an accurate description of a human. This scenario attempts to apply a rule to something that is not a human in order to prove that that rule can not work when applied to humans. Human psychology is just as much a part of humans as is our physiology. Describing an entity that for no reason refuses to sell goods in its store under these circumstances is no more describing a human than is describing an entity that involuntarily shoots lasers from its side. Perhaps it would be moral to force such a species to sell medications at hefty profit margins and it would only be moral to make their buildings out of tantalum carbide. If you describe an entity other than a human, then standard human morality may not apply. But if you are talking about humans, then only actual qualities of humans, not any qualities that you can dream up, are relevant to the proposed inapplicability of the NAP and property rights.

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